Many moms-to-be dream about kissing their newborn’s sweet face. They wonder if their little one will have hair or if their ears will stick out. And they think about how their baby’s brain will operate and whether they will be gifted in math or art. All of those thoughts focus on the baby’s head, the top of the body which encompasses so much of how we look and what we become.
But the head is a big part of the birth process — where it is pointed can determine the delivery and that in turn can determine how it is shaped. The head is usually the first thing that anyone sees when the baby is born, and it’s as vulnerable and important as anything else during the blessed event.
As much as a mom looks forward to seeing her baby’s face and head, it may look a lot different than she imagines — and it could look completely different a few days later. The baby’s head could change shape, and it could be damaged. It’ll most likely be swollen, although some babies fare better than others. We’re here to prepare new moms for what can happen.
Here are 15 unbelievable birth photos that show what can happen to the baby’s head during childbirth.
15 Cone Head
Remember the Saturday Night Live skit about the Conehead family? Those silly people were aliens, but babies from right here on earth can come out with an incredible odd shaped head. It can look like a traffic cone was placed on top of the baby’s head.
The weird look is a good thing, believe it or not. The baby may look strange for a few days, but the cone shape happens because the head is maleable, which allows the baby’s birth to happen. At birth, the baby’s skull is made up of several plates that will fuse later on. For the birth, they allow the head to change shape in order to get through the pelvis.
14 Crowning Glory
The head is typically the first part of the baby that anyone sees. That’s because most births occur when the baby is head down, and that is by far the safest way to deliver a baby. As we have already mentioned, the bones of the skull are made for this kind of delivery because they aren’t fused together. The big round head that babies form later can change shape as the baby goes through the birth canal.
When the top of the baby’s head is visible, it’s called crowning. For some women, the crowning happens just moments before birth, but for some there still may be a lot of pushing to go to get the baby fully out. That first glance of the baby’s sweet head may not reveal much, but it is still an amazing moment to behold that signals the imminent arrival of a family’s new bundle of joy.
13 Head Turning
After the baby crowns, sometimes the baby slips back in and mom has to continue pushing. That’s because, even harder than delivering the head, is delivering the shoulders. They aren’t going to change shape to get through. That can give the doctor or midwife a chance to get mucus out of the baby’s nose and throat, as the mom continues pushing to deliver the rest of the baby.
For most deliveries, if a woman is laying on her back, the baby will be facing the ground when he first peeks his head out (or facing up if she is on her hands and knees). Then, he will naturally turn in the birth canal to a position kind of sideways that lets the shoulders line up in an easier position to get on through. The baby isn’t officially born while the rest of the body is still inside, but once the head begins to turn, there is a good chance the baby will be out soon.
12 Black And Blue
Lots of moms bruise while they are delivering their baby. But many moms don’t know that the baby can get pretty bruised as well. The case of Scarlett Greene is a bit extreme, but it shows what can happen when doctors have to take extreme measures to save a baby’s life.
Little Scarlett’s mom, Louise, had a hard time with her delivery, so the doctor eventually performed a vacuum delivery, which is where a suction cup is applied to the baby’s head to help guide her out of the birth canal. Doctors don’t use the equipment much anymore, but for some women who want to avoid a C-section, it may be an option after hours of pushing.
Scarlett’s heart rate had dropped during her delivery, so doctors went for the vacuum. And the baby was left black and blue all over her head. But after a few days in the NICU, she recovered and the bruises healed.
11 Vacuum Victim
Sometimes a vacuum extraction can do more than bruise the baby. It can take away layers of skin. That’s what happened to little Kayden Henderson, whose mom asked for a Cesarean after issues during her delivery, but the hospital did not have an operating room available.
The doctor placed a suction cup on the baby’s head, as is common in a vacuum extraction, but the delivery did not go as it normally did. The baby’s skin was pulled from his scalp, and he will have a scar and possibly issues with hair growth for the rest of his life, according to the Evening Telegraph. The picture of their baby’s head is anything but sweet, and the parents said their birth experience was traumatic. They worried he would die during the delivery, so the scar isn’t as worrisome as the idea that a delivery could go so wrong.
10 Forceps Mark
Another tool that some doctors use to deliver babies who are stuck in the birth canal is forceps. It looks like a kitchen utensil but longer, and has arms that could grip the sides of the babies head so that doctors can pull the baby through.
There are a lot of risks to the mother for the use of forceps, such as pain, injuries to the bladder, or pelvic organ prolapse, but the risks to the baby are usually a bigger concern to the mom. Most of the time, though, it’s a minor cosmetic thing.
Many babies delivered by forceps have a minor indention on the head, which can stay there for weeks. It’s called a forceps mark, and it’s a physical reminder of the pain of childbirth that goes away about the same time that it takes for the mother to heal.
9 Eye Injury
A forceps delivery can be very dangerous for some children. That’s because the head isn’t just one big hard object that can be tugged and pulled. There are organs in that very important body part that are critical to a person’s health and quality of life.
For the Cutillo family, the forceps delivery they thought would bring out their healthy baby had terrible consequences. According to the Daily Mail, baby Xavier was left with a detached eyeball, and his skull was fractured, resulting in brain damage.
The mom said doctors didn’t explain the risks of the procedure, and unfortunately, her baby will suffer the consequences.
“We don’t know yet if he will ever be able to see out of his left eye and he could also be brain damaged. We have to wait and see,” mom Emma Portogallo said in the Daily Mail article. “Having a baby is meant to be one of the happiest days of your life but for us it was a complete nightmare.”
8 C-section Scar
Once again we’re going to talk about something that moms expect will happen to them but that can also happen to their baby. With a C-section, a mom knows that her stomach will get a scar that will fade over time, but may last her entire life. But for some babies, the head could get a little in the way during the surgery, and they could end up with their own scar, maybe even on their face.
That’s what happened to little Matthew Watson, who got his “war wound,” as his mom calls it, during his birth. The Daily Mail talked to Matthew’s mom, Wendy, and she said that she worries that the scar on her baby’s forehead will bother him as he grows up. But after a difficult labor ended in an emergency C-section and other complications, she said she was just grateful that her son was healthy.
7 Natural Cesarean
We know that we’ve explained a few scary procedures so far, but this next one is much less disturbing. In fact, it depicts a new practice known as a natural C-section. This photo shows a baby that has started to make his own way out of the body, although he is going through a surgical incision in his mother’s belly, not the vagina.
Through the natural C-section practice, the doctor makes the surgical incision and helps the baby start its birthing process, but then the baby can take his own initiative and crawl or push the rest of the way out. The mother is given a chance to watch the miracle unfold, so she gets to see her baby “crown” in a similar fashion as in a vaginal delivery, and that first glimpse of her baby’s face doesn’t come through surgical mask and over a big drape. The baby’s head usually doesn’t have the same cone shape, but instead can look perfect (as newborns always do).
6 Cord Compression
One of the biggest worries about the baby’s head during the delivery actually isn’t about the head — it’s about the umbilical cord. For most babies, the only thing that could be an issue with their head is whether or not it will compress the cord. If the cord comes out before the head, that’s a big likelihood. It’s called a cord prolapse, and it likely means that the mom and baby are heading for the operating room for a C-section.
Sometimes the cord can get wrapped around a part of the head or the neck, but the good thing is that the baby isn’t breathing oxygen yet, so as long as the cord isn’t compressed, the doctor or midwife can slip it from around the baby’s head. They often do this in the break in contractions between delivering the baby’s head and when his shoulders and the rest of the body slip out. While the head can change shape to get through the birth canal, it’s still a hard surface that can definitely cause a problem if the cord is caught between the birth canal and the skull. The body parts are definitely thought of together by the medical professionals who are helping deliver the baby.
5 Breech Birth
Sadly, many babies are born breech. Sometimes the baby doesn’t flip so that his head is down before the labor begins, and that is called a breech position. There are a lot of risks to that, and many doctors push for a C-section at that point. But some are willing to help a mom who wants to try for a vaginal delivery.
In a breech delivery, the baby’s head will be the last thing to come out. You might think that the baby would be suffocating, but at this point, the baby is still getting his oxygen from the umbilical cord. There is a risk that the cord could be compressed, so that is something that the healthcare provider will monitor. Most of the time, the baby will still be able to draw his first breaths once the head is delivered.
4 Facial Presentation
A facial presentation during a delivery is very rare, happening in as few as one in 800 births. Facial presentation occurs when the face is pushed through the birth canal first instead of the top of the head. Many of these end up with C-section deliveries because the labor can be prolonged and the baby can go through a lot of stress. It’s also harder to use forceps, and a vacuum extraction is out of the question.
While it may seem awesome to see the baby’s face before the birth, the facial presentation isn’t ideal because it means that the part of the head that is already set in stone, if you will, is coming through, as opposed to the bones on the top of the head that can be pushed together to make it easier to get out. Facial presentation births can be painful, and the mom might have some damage to her perineum as the baby makes his way into the world.
3 Swollen Face
This picture shows what can happen if the baby’s face goes through some trauma during the delivery. The baby’s forehead and lips are all swollen because of what it went through to get out of the birth canal. But she is still a little beauty, puffy gorgeous lips and all.
According to What to Expect When You’re Expecting and other baby books, the baby doesn’t always look their best in the first few days after the delivery. It’s not just the cone head, but all of the swelling can happen even in an uncomplicated delivery, and of course some of them can get it even worse. Hormones that course from the mother to the baby can also cause some extra swelling, and that can make it harder to tell if baby has his father’s nose or his mother’s lips. But within a few days, it goes down and the baby is picture perfect.
2 Birthmark Baby
Sometimes the marks on a baby’s head at birth are not caused by the birth — they are birthmarks that will remain with the baby for a while. This photo is of newborn Cinar Engin, who has a heart-shaped birthmark on his forehead that his parents Ceyda and Murat thought was adorable and an amazing physical sign of the love that the family shares. Of course, that’s a great sentiment, but birthmarks are more of a mystery than that.
Doctors don’t know what causes a birthmark. They don’t appear to be hereditary and there are lots of types. Very rarely, they can be a sign of something wrong, but most are entirely harmless and unique marks on our children.
Of course, birthmarks can be anywhere on the body, but we are focusing on the head in this article. Stork bites are common on the forehead, eyelids and the back of the neck, and they usually go away as the baby gets older. Port-wine stains are common on the face and are often permanent. Parents should talk to their pediatrician about their baby’s birthmarks — and we hope that they are as accepting and excited as Cinar’s mom and dad.
1 Measuring Success
We’ve talked a lot about how the skull of a newborn is made up of plates that can allow the shape of the head to change during the delivery, but after the baby is out, there isn’t a need to have a conehead. The average size of a baby’s head at birth is 13.75 inches, but that can vary a lot based on the strange shape that it has taken to get through the birth canal.
For that reason and for others, the doctor will track the baby’s head size for years, especially watching closely in the beginning to make sure that the shape returns to normal. At a month, the head is usually about 15 inches in circumference, but there are babies who have abnormally large heads or abnormally small ones. Of course, heredity can have something to do with it, but the head size can also be an indicator that something is wrong. It’s important to keep an eye on that noggin to make sure that any issues are caught early. But for most, the head size will just be another thing to track in a child’s growth chart — and the cone shape will be a blurry birth story memory.
Sources: What to Expect, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Mayo Clinic, WebMD, Healthy Children
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